SOAS University of London

Department of the Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East

Film and Society in the Middle East

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2020/2021
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Taught in:
Full Year

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

By the end of the module, students will be able to: 

  • Demonstrate an awareness of film language, narrative, and structure as it relates to the cinematic cultures of the Middle East and North Africa
  • Situate national and linguistic cinematic traditions within their local, regional, and international contexts
  • Synthesise theory, scholarship and analytical approaches from a number of academic disciplines in relation to the study of the film from the region
  • Treat films as artistic expressions cultural artefacts that engage both directly and indirectly in social polemics
  • Advance and substantiate an original argument with evidence from primary and secondary sources and achieving a balance between abstract theoretical concerns and practical applied criticism


This module will be taught over 20 weeks with a 2-hour film screening, a 1-hour lecture and a 1-hour seminar per week.

Scope and syllabus

The module will offer a survey of films from the Arab world, Turkey, Iran, and Israel, as well as an overview of the historical development of film in the region and a grounding in the socio-cultural contexts in which films have been produced.  Films will be analysed aesthetically, with an awareness of multiple aspects of film technique, and meanings will be interrogated through a number of interdisciplinary and theoretical prisms.  Students will be taught the basics of film language and to support their interpretations of films with aural, visual, and narrative evidence.  Secondary readings are drawn from films studies, anthropology, sociology, religion, and literary theory and will enable the students to situate the perspectives expressed in the films within contemporary artistic, cultural and political debates.
The module will be divided into thematic units, such as the following:

The Musical: Mimicry and Authenticity

Mainstream cinematic industries in the region emerged alongside the introduction of sound technology to film production.  This unit will explore the ways in which film-makers blended imported visual idioms with local aural idioms to create works which were perceived as both ‘modern’ and ‘traditional’ or culturally authentic.

Melodrama and the Politics of Articulation

Melodrama will be explored, after Peter Brooks, as a mode of overt expression where moral dilemmas are treated explicitly and the repressed is brought to the surface.  Techniques associated with this expressive mode will be explored, and the dilemmas being articulated will be related to contesting notions of civic society and the ideal citizen.

Realism, Ethnography and Revolution

This unit will engage with the arthouse cinema of the 1960s and 70s that emerged in the Middle East and North Africa as part of a global, left-wing, artistic and cultural movement that embraced common themes and techniques which were often influenced by Italian neo-realism and manifested certain characteristics which came to be known as ‘third cinema’ or ‘third-world cinema’.

Narrative Identities and their De/Construction

In this unit films that problematise constructions of religious, ethnic, national, or sexual identity through the use of specific narrative techniques and devices relating to perspective, voice, and sequencing that destabilise the stance of the protagonist/s. Explorations of these films will focus on the political implications of these destabilised identities in their specific societal contexts.

Feminist Chronotopes

Films articulating concerns about women’s rights and questioning patriarchal values run the gamut from those that are conventional and formulaic to those that are highly experimental. In this unit we will examine contrasting examples of feminist films, with a special emphasis on cinematic elaborations of time and space and whether and how the films relate women’s experiences to historical chronologies.

Religious Discourses and Cinematic Aesthetics

This unit will investigate a variety of films exploiting aspects of religious heritage, broadly interpreted, for the purpose of artistic innovation: from the direct engagement with contemporary religious perspectives, to symbolic manifestations of Sufi Philosophy, to the strategic treatment of the religious icon, to the narrative implications of the cinematic privileging of Word over Image, to the circumvention of what are seen as religious proscriptions on screen representations.

Method of assessment

An essay of 2,000 words to be submitted on Monday, week 2, term 2 (20%); an essay of 3,000 words to be submitted on Monday, week 1, term 3 (30%); 2 oral presentations of 20 minutes each (40%); a film analysis of 1,000 words (10%).

Suggested reading

  • Alia Arasoughly (ed.), Screens of Life: Critical Film Writing from the Arab World (Quebec: World Heritage Press, 1996).
  • Walter Armbrust, Mass Culture and Modernism in Egypt (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).
  • Walter Armbrust (ed.), Mass Mediations: New Approaches to Popular Culture in the Middle East and Beyond (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000).
  • Roy Armes, African Filmmaking North and South of the Sahara (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006).
  • Roy Armes, Postcolonial Images: Studies in North African Film (Bloomington/Indianapolis: Indiana University Press (2005).
  • SavaƟ Arslan, Cinema in Turkey: a New Critical History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 237-73.
  • Hamid Dabashi (ed.), Dreams of a Nation: on Palestinian Cinema (London/New York: Verso, 2006).
  • Gönül Dönmez-Colin (ed.), The Cinema of North Africa and the Middle East (London: Wallflower Press, 2007),
  • Gönül Dönmez-Colin, Cinemas of the Other: A Personal Journey with Film-makers from the Middle East and Central Asia (Bristol: Intellect, 2006),
  • Gönül Dönmez-Colin, Turkish Cinema: Identity, Distance and Belonging (London: Reaktion Books, 2008).
  • Nurit Gertz and George Khleifi, Palestinian Cinema: Landscape, Trauma and Memory (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008).
  • Joel Gordon, Revolutionary Melodrama: Popular Film and Civic Identity in Nasser’s Egypt (Chicago: Middle East Documentation Center, 2002).
  • Catherine Grant and Annette Kuhn (eds.), Screening World Cinema: a Screen Reader (Abingdon: Routledge, 2006).
  • Rebecca Hillauer, Encyclopedia of Arab Women Filmmakers (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2005).
  • Oliver Leaman, Companion Encyclopedia of Middle Eastern and North African Film (London/New York: Routledge, 2001).
  • Yosefa Loshitzky, Identity Politics on the Israeli Screen (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2001).
  • Lizbeth Malkmus and Roy Armes, Arab & African Film Making (Zed: London, 1991).
  • Georges Sadoul (ed.), Cinema in the Arab Countries (Beirut, 1966).
  • Hamid Reza Sadr, Iranian Cinema: a Political History (London: I.B. Tauris, 2006).
  • Rasha Salti (ed.), Insights into Syrian Cinema: Essays and Conversations with Contemporary Filmmakers (New York: ArteEast, 2006)
  • Viola Shafik, Arab Cinema: History and Cultural Identity (Cairo/New York: American University in Cairo Press, 1988).
  • Viola Shafik, Popular Egyptian Cinema: Gender, Class, and Nation (Cairo/New York: American University in Cairo Press, 2007).
  • Ella Shohat, Israeli Cinema: East/West and the Politics of Representation (Austin: Univ. of Texas Press, 1989).
  • Miri Talmon and Yaron Peleg (eds.), Israeli Cinema: Identities in Motion (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2011),
  • Richard Tapper (ed.), The New Iranian Cinema (London: I.B. Tauris, 2001).
  • Saeed Zeydabadi-Nejad, The Politics of Iranian Cinema: Film and Society in the Islamic Republic, (London: Routledge, 2010)


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules